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Kyle Dranginis enjoys fine company

Left to right, Gonzaga’s Kyle Wiltjer, Domantas Sabonis and Kyle Dranginis celebrate their 85-75 win over Saint Mary's at the end of the West Coast Conference tournament championship on Tuesday, March 8, 2016. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
Left to right, Gonzaga’s Kyle Wiltjer, Domantas Sabonis and Kyle Dranginis celebrate their 85-75 win over Saint Mary's at the end of the West Coast Conference tournament championship on Tuesday, March 8, 2016. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

Kyle Dranginis arrived in the same Gonzaga recruiting class as Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr., but the 6-foot-5 senior wing from Nampa will leave a year later because he redshirted as a freshman.

They’re still on common ground.

Pangos exited as the program’s all-time winningest player, never missing a game as the Zags compiled a 122-20 record. Bell, also a four-year starter, was sidelined seven games due to injury.

Dranginis? He didn’t play in two games during his redshirt freshman season – a regular-season home win over Saint Mary’s and an NCAA tournament win over Southern. The Zags are 122-20 in his four seasons. He’d share company with Przemek Karnowski but the senior center played in just five games before suffering a season-ending back injury.

Gonzaga finished 26-7 in 2012, the freshmen season for Pangos and Bell. GU is 26-7 this season, which resulted in an 11 seed and Thursday’s date with No. 6 Seton Hall in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

“I knew I was up there but I didn’t know the exact number,” Dranginis said. “That’s pretty cool.”

Cool for a couple of reasons. One, Dranginis, Pangos and Bell are close friends. Two, Dranginis has lined up on two of GU’s best teams and with several players who rate with the best in program history, including Pangos, Bell, Elias Harris and Kelly Olynyk from years’ past, Domantas Sabonis and Kyle Wiltjer on the current club.

Pangos, Bell and David Stockton were among the ex-Zags who contacted Dranginis with congratulations following the WCC championship.

“It’s an honor,” Dranginis said. “I’m lucky to be part of a rich history.”

Dranginis began this season as a starter but was replaced by Bryan Alberts after eight games. Dranginis struck for 13 points in a road loss at Saint Mary’s and reclaimed his starting spot two days later.

He’s scored in double figures in seven of the last 15 games (14 starts), including a 13-point effort in the WCC tournament championship victory against Saint Mary’s. He also had 10 rebounds against San Francisco and seven assists versus Loyola Marymount. He’s committed one turnover or less in 12 of the last 14 contests.

Dranginis has continued his habit of making key plays, including blocking Joe Rahon’s shot and throwing the ball off Rahon’s foot as an airborne Dranginis sailed beyond the baseline.

“I’m really happy for where he’s at currently,” coach Mark Few said. “He’s finally doing what we thought and hoped and recruited around, for what we need him to do.

“Frustratingly there were long stretches where he wasn’t doing that. We didn’t need a fifth-year guy who has been through all this that we were counting on being a starter and being in double figures to take one shot a game. Something kicked in. I don’t know if it’s being a senior or seeing the days tick away, but we’re lucky it did or we wouldn’t be where we are.”

Dranginis is averaging career highs in scoring (6.5), rebounds (4.3), assists (3.2) and minutes (30.6). He’s made a single-season best 37 3-pointers.

“I just realized, hey, it’s my senior year and I don’t want to look back and regret anything,” he said. “I just have a new sense of determination, motivation. It’s been fun the last month or two.”

He doesn’t want it to end this week.

“We’re all feeling really good,” Dranginis said. “We’re all at the highest confidence, especially how we’ve all been playing individually and as a team. Things are looking really good for us. We’ll see on Thursday.”

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